How do I recover from a spinal fracture?

A spinal fracture is when a bone in your spine becomes compressed or squashed after losing strength. You may also hear this called a vertebral or compression fracture. It's not the same as a broken back, and it won't cause you to become paralysed.

A spinal fracture takes between six and 12 weeks to heal.

During the healing process, spinal bones don't return to their normal shape. They heal in their new compressed shape. This can lead to height loss and a curved spine.


How are spinal fractures treated?

If you break a bone in your spine, you won’t usually need an operation.

It's recommended you aim to stay as active as possible. This can reduce the risk of chest infections, constipation, blood clots and other side effects. It also helps you maintain your muscle strength and reduces your chances of ongoing pain after your spinal fracture has healed.

Movement does not affect the healing process. But spinal fractures can make staying mobile a challenge. If your pain is severe in the early stages, rest for a while. When you're ready, try taking a pain-relieving medication to help you stay active.

Sometimes, a spinal fracture may continue to cause severe pain. If this happens to you and pain-relieving medications aren't helping, your doctor may consider a medical procedure, to help relieve the pain.


What are the possible long-term complications of a spinal fracture?

Ongoing pain

Many people recover well from a spinal fracture. You can usually expect your broken bone to heal within about three months. But for other people, the pain doesn’t go away completely. If you still have pain after three months, it’s described as chronic pain.

Ongoing pain, even after the spinal fracture has healed, is caused by the change of shape to your spine. This change of shape can cause different types of pain.

Nerve pain

If a spinal fracture pinches or irritates a nerve as it heals, pain can continue after healing. Pain can also continue if nerves become overly sensitive. In this case, they continue to 'fire off' pain signals after the bone has healed.

Muscle spasms

A change in the shape of your spine can stretch or shorten your back muscles. You may experience a spasm when lifting an object or when pushing, pulling, bending or twisting, such as when using a vacuum cleaner.

Joint and ligament pain

A change in the shape of your spine puts strain on the joints and ligaments between your spinal bones.


If you have arthritis in your back, it can be made worse by the change in the shape of your spine.


If you're in pain, there are things you can do to help manage your pain and continue living the life you enjoy as far as possible.


Height loss and a curved spine

If you break multiple bones in your spine, you will probably lose some height. You may notice an outward curve at the top of your spine. This is caused by the broken bones in your spine healing in a squashed or compressed shape.

This can cause shortness of breath and your stomach may feel squashed and bloated, making everyday movements more uncomfortable.

If you're experiencing these symptoms of spinal fractures, there are things you can do to make daily living easier for you. Find out more in our fact sheet, 'Daily living after fractures'.



Watch our film about living with spinal fractures: 

We explore the emotional and physical effects of living with spinal fractures, and where to go for more information and support. This film is part of our 'Understanding and living with spinal fractures' series. 

Films not playing?

Please allow all cookies to watch this film.

Watch our discussion: 

Rheumatology Physiotherapist Sarah Legg answers your questions on exercising after spinal fractures. This film is part of our #BoneMatters series of events 

Films not playing?

Please allow all cookies to watch this film.

Help our specialist nurses continue to support those in need